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  • Writer's pictureDave Taylor

Educational Partnerships

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

Leveraging the strengths of each partner within a dynamic collaboration can be a powerful approach for organizations looking to expand their customer base and increase demand within key markets, while also getting the most from their marketing budgets.

This type of marketing strategy is co-marketing. The two best known approaches to co-marketing are affiliate marketing, and partnership marketing, where organizations look to products and services within the market that are complementary and not competitive to their own. A shared marketing campaign is then developed, highlighting the strengths and mutual relationship between the supportive brands, and how the consumer will gain benefits from engaging with both brands.

Digital marketers make distinct use of affiliate marketing techniques to gain awareness, and hopefully sales from an affiliate’s consumer base. Companies like Amazon have developed associate programs gaining exposure through product links with podcasters, bloggers, and social media influencers, rewarding their affiliates with commissions achieved through click-through sales from their online audiences.

The cross-promotional approach of ‘partnership marketing’ has seen many recent examples of this strategy achieving successful results. These campaigns include GoPro and Red Bull, Starbucks and Spotify, and Apple and Nike. Sharing a common target market, their products are not seen as competitive and can be very clearly identified by the consumer as distinct and complementary. The purchase decision is not ‘one or the other’, but rather a potential desire for both products. The brands support one another, and can share in marketing costs, contribute awareness to each other’s consumer groups, as well as build brand identity and brand loyalty.

So how does this apply to education? Many educational organizations, especially publicly funded institutions, historically tend to be more insular in their marketing and outreach, focusing more on traditional marketing approaches. Cautious to be perceived by business and public tax-payers as remaining neutral with public tax dollars in their pockets, they are cognizant not to offend the companies at large by favouring a specific corporate partner in their marketing. That being said, the one area where public universities and colleges have engaged corporate sponsorship is in research. Research grants are often supported by corporate funding and in many cases matched by government, with some government research funding requiring corporate financial contributions.

Beyond research, financial pressures and declining enrolments have forced some public institutions to look at their regular academic operations and break ranks with the conservative marketing approach. They have decided to venture into innovative partnerships, seeking corporate dollars for progressive program support and development, and to hopefully attract greater demand for their programs.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) and Cisco have entered into a partnership to collaborate on a number of initiatives focused on smart energy technologies. Cisco will be creating a Living Lab Initiative to accelerate the commercialization of new technologies. Together UBC and Cisco hope to create smarter, energy-efficient buildings, and to identify best practices and innovative solutions to reduce UBC's net greenhouse gas emissions and associated carbon costs. Providing a significant hands-on opportunity for UBC students, the UBC-Cisco project also provides the administration of both organizations with a partner that supports their individual strategic planning and strengthens the sustainability of their organizations.

Private educational operations don’t really have the public tax dollar issue, and are much more aggressive in their business development, reaching out to corporations they see as ideal partners within shared marketing campaigns. Through building relationships with their corporate partners, they also seek opportunities for integrated product development and currency for their programming, increasing the market demand for their graduates.

As identified by MIT Sloan Research, (Developing Successful Strategic Partnerships with Universities; 2018) there are companies that actively manage their relationship with universities, and have dedicated staff for university relations, especially in the United States. For example, one large pharmaceutical company closely monitors its needs within their product development, forecasting needs and working with universities, funding fellowship programs and post-doctoral researchers, and then recruiting them into their organization.

The development of micro-credentials within academic programs of study through corporate accreditation of learning outcomes within diplomas and degrees not only provides a solid link between the school and the corporation, but prepares the graduate with additional credentials already recognized and valued by specific industry sectors. Corporations also bring marketing dollars to the table to assist with educational campaigns promoting programming within which their credentials are embedded. Companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, Alibaba, IBM, and Oracle provide micro-credentialling options for educational curriculum developers, as well as a host of other progressive opportunities for partner school students and faculty.

As mentioned in a previous article, the educational-business philosophy of the school is a critical factor in the development of such a relationship. Considering employers as the customer requires forward thinking and significant industry engagement to be successful in meeting the present and future needs of employers. Graduates need to be presented as customized ‘products’ who are ready to meet the evolving skilled labour force needs of a changing economic and social environment. This perspective creates an institutional brand that will be relatable to both prospective students, and employers seeking valuable human resources. High quality ‘supplies & materials’ (curriculum/programs) designed to produce excellent ‘products’ (prepared graduates), will promote an ongoing positive proactive and integrated relationship with industry employers… the ultimate ‘customer’.

There are also many considerations for powerful partnerships between educational organizations, cultivating academic and operational collaborations where sharing complementary resources and areas of dedicated expertise are utilized to provide mutual benefits. Ryerson University recently announced a partnership with Navitas, that supports a pathway program for international students designed to prepare them for entry into a Canadian university environment. Taking advantage of the global reach of the Navitas recruitment network, Ryerson stands to gain access to more international students, as well as increase their chances of graduation through better preparedness. Navitas on the other hand, can now leverage preferred access and advanced standing to a quality Canadian university for their prep programming as a marketing message in their global recruitment.

Leveraging these types of resources creates potential organizational synergies and can contribute to the development of attractive program options for potential students, as well as creative administrative solutions previously seen as out of reach for the school acting on its own.

The Ontario Provincial government has recently provided its support for the development of Public-Private Partnerships, encouraging an entrepreneurial approach to public college program deliveries through collaboration with private sector schools. This type of government support for publicly funded colleges to engage the private sector will provide opportunities for both sectors to learn and benefit from one another resulting in quality, creative programming, that is integrated with industry support for dynamic educational experiences. In addition to the creative programming that will result from these educational partnerships, ongoing collaborations will inevitably result in the evolution of other innovative joint activities.

Given the significant financial pressures of declining domestic college-age demographics, the reliance on recruitment of international students, and the many complications that have been presented by the unprecedented global pandemic of 2020, many educational institutions will absolutely need to be creative in securing partnerships that bring needed resources to their strategic planning for the future.

Institutions that succeed in fostering mutually beneficial partnerships will be better able to develop progressive strategic plans, pursue fiscal sustainability, as well as develop critical relevance in the eyes of those potential students looking for an educational experience that promotes valuable connections with industry, launching them into a successful career.

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